Bangladesh, Myanmar Agree to Further Talks on Rohingya Refugees

Jesmin Papri
170113-BD-Rohingya-1000.jpg A Rohingya woman is seen with her two children at the Leda camp for Rohingya in Cox's Bazar district, southeastern Bangladesh, Dec. 21, 2016.
Star Mail

Fresh talks are to be held over the future of 65,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh from recent violence in Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine state, after a meeting to tackle the refugee crisis ended in deadlock this week.

Myanmar's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kyaw Tin flew to Bangladesh's capital Dhaka and held rare talks on Wednesday and Thursday with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Foreign Minister Mahmud Ali and other officials on the crisis, but they were unable to reach an agreement, Bangladesh officials said.

But “Myanmar agreed to continue further discussions...," Mahmud said. "We are hopeful with their positive intentions to move forward.”

The talks this week were the first since an October attack by Rohingya insurgents on border posts in Rakhine state left nine policemen dead.

Myanmar responded by sending the military into the Muslim-majority northern part of Rakhine State, resulting in Rohingya claims of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and rape.


The United Nations says about 65,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, have fled to Bangladesh since then.

Kyaw Tin had proposed a plan to screen the refugees first before agreeing to allow them back into his country but it was rejected by Bangladesh, officials in Dhaka said. No details on the process was given.

“Bangladesh emphasized setting a peaceful environment in Rakhine state," Bangladesh Foreign Affairs Secretary Md. Shahidul Haque said. "Bangladesh also emphasized the importance of ensuring security and sustainable livelihoods in that state.”

Bangladesh officials also told Kyaw Tin, who did not speak to the media, that the influx of 365,000 "unregistered Myanmar nationals" over the years following violence in Rakhine had disrupted stability and economic development in Chittagong in southeast Bangladesh, news reports said.

Ali said Myanmar had agreed to sign two Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with Bangladesh for discussions on border security cooperation and opening joint border liaison offices.

Aye Aye Soe, director general of Myanmar's foreign affairs ministry, said in Myanmar's commercial capital Yangon on Thursday that the two countries would start discussions on an "identification and verification process" to resolve the latest refugee crisis, Reuters news agency reported.

"If they find they are from Myanmar, they will be repatriated at the appropriate time," she said, adding there was "no timeline" for the talks.

Bangladesh has refused to grant the Rohingyas refugee status because it considers them citizens of Myanmar, while Myanmar considers the Rohingyas illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and has denied then citizenship and access to basic services for decades.

"If they are Myanmar nationals they will be repatriated [to Myanmar]," Aye Aye Soe said.

Asked what the term "Myanmar nationals" referred to, she said: "It could be citizens or it could be people from Myanmar side."

Aye Aye Soe restated Myanmar's position after a previous verification process that only 2,415 of those living in Bangladesh from past exoduses were from Myanmar, according to Reuters.

Not a border problem

Some experts in Bangladesh see the visit of Kyaw Tin, an envoy of Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as a shift away from the country’s refusal to cooperate with its western neighbour to resolve the Rohingya issue.

Dr. Delwar Hossain, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University, told BenarNews that the visit was "an indication of change in Myanmar’s stubborn attitude towards solution of Rohingya issue."

"It is a good initiative or a step towards a diplomatic process to solve the problem.”

Former diplomat Humayun Kabir said an agreement was critical for resolution of the longstanding issue. He downplayed Myanmar's preparedness to sign MOUs to discuss border security and set up joint border liaison offices.

“This is not a problem with the border between two countries. Rather, it is Myanmar’s internal problem," he said.

Myanmar needs to "think positively to solve the real problem," he said.


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